Every time we drive a freeway, we are in the midst of strangers.  My car is a kind of metaphor for the fact that I function within my own world, and the worlds of all those others  are opaque to me when I am driving, as mine is to them.  They all simply flow past me like a moving  mural.  Yet, though we do not even recognize each other as persons, all of our separate worlds co-exist in the same space, and even overlap.   It gives me the scary image of rogue atoms that could fly apart at any moment, unhinged from their proper chemical bonds.

go to the website When we watch television or a movie, we become intimately involved in the characters’ lives; we are near to forgetting that they are only actors pretending.  I think the experience of the freeway, and the experience of movie-watching, combine in a huge irony to make the fictional people seem real to us, and the real freeway
people unreal.  And our situation is such that we must needs relate to both by only passive observation with no real interaction.  What effect does this have on how we approach the world, and other people?

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8 Responses to Strangers

  1. Kim says:

    Interesting thoughts.

    As Susan knows, I’m a commuter. An hour each way. I’ve often had similar thoughts about the separate worlds of the drivers on the road around me. I am in my own little metal cocoon, intent upon getting from here to there on time and with the sensation that I am impervious to all these other people who, if in front of me, are in my way, and, if behind me, inconsequential. I actually catch myself thinking this way at times! And yet, how suddenly, sickeningly, that would change if I were to witness an accident or be involved in one. Instantly, anyone/everyone involved would become quite an uncomfortably intimate part of my world.

    When I think about it, that cocooning phenomenon that comes with driving a car is also occurring with computers and cellphones. It’s easier to text or e-mail than to have a two-way conversation. We get the communication need satisfied, without the warmth or physical space involvement. Are we becoming less “human”, the more time we spend isolated in our cars, behind our keyboards, attached to our smart phones?

    I have had to catch myself and pray about my attitude in the car. I want to be as thoughtful and generous with the space around me and my time as I would be if I were standing behind someone in a checkout line.

    I think that “good will towards men” takes practice, and the less we have to practice it, day in and day out, because we are becoming more isolated, the worse we may become at demonstrating good will automatically.

    I hope I am wrong.

  2. Fr. Lazarus says:


    I am wondering if the freeway is not deeply interactive. Certainly, the interpersonal involvement is not of the kind that you are describing. But, I think the seeming passivity and isolation is actually a multilayered, complicated, and deeply emotional interaction – competition with others on the freeway to get to MY destination; interaction with others in the car (“Taylor, stop hitting Madison or I’m going to pull the car over‼”); and people talking to others via Bluetooth; etc. I mean, really, we don’t just cruise the freeway for the fun of it. At least I don’t. Getting from point A to point B on 101 is not my idea of fun… I find that driving, sometimes, brings out the worst in me. It is an emotional gauntlet of deep interactions with people who are all too real, even though they are strangers. Can a true encounter that makes us better people actually occur on the freeway? Can you witness to a life-changing experience on the freeway? Well, yes, some of us can but …

    Movies, no matter how supposedly inspiring or escapist, are for the purpose of the manipulation of the rational and emotional aspects of our mind. We desire to be taken somewhere else and be someone else. In the dark movie theatre, with popcorn and soft drink in a nicely padded seat, we are offered the opportunity to privately participate in situations we would never consider being in the midst of; do things we would or could never do in ordinary life; be the person we desire to be but do not have the guts to be; and perform the noble and world-changing things we deeply desire to see happens but know will not happen (After all, Batman is not real, neither was Frodo, and, thank goodness, neither is the cinematic portrayal of Vlad II, otherwise known as Dracula). And, best of all, we can leave the theatre plausibly denying the things we enjoyed the most and raving about the things that we hated the most. All for the sake of entertainment or professed inspiration.

    I know, you really were inspired by your favorite movie… But, really, has your life been changed? Were you in a real, practical way, motivated to make permanent changes in your life? Are you, in fact, a better person? Did “Braveheart” or “Lord of the Rings” or “Shadowlands” or “____” change your life? I give thanks when it happens but …

    Occasionally, indeed, all too rarely, do driving and movie watching actually serve the purpose of inspiring me to be a better person. I will allow for a movie to occupy the place of being the means by which you were actually empowered to encounter another human being in a deeply authentic way – one heart touching another in Christ Jesus.


  3. Susan says:

    Kim, I do not think you are wrong at all! As I wrote the post about cars, I was also thinking about our computers and phones. For an introvert like myself, it is so very easy to “hide” behind them – and then after a while, I find myself missing the real human contact, and wondering if I/we will end up in desperate cheerless rooms, unable to find any other real, breathing humans to relate to. It isn’t an encouraging vision!

  4. Susan says:

    These are some interesting points, Fr. Lazarus, and they bring up another layer of insight. When I ponder them, though, it seems to me that the interactions with people on the freeway or in the movies are actually interactions with ourselves. That gauntlet you speak of is one made up of our own projections about the others around us. Pondering further, I see that the same can be said of “real” interactions – so much of our visceral response to another person comes from associations made inside us, associations with our history of experiences that may have nothing actually to do with that other person. Perhaps the difference between “real” interaction and freeway interaction is that those internal projections cannot be tested on the freeway, whereas with a “real” interaction, we have the opportunity to have our perceptions corrected and thus add to or modify our store of experience. Movies are somewhat different, though, I think. In the case of a movie, we are really in an internal conversation with the director, seeing the characters through his eyes in a way that lets us decide whether to agree or not. In this, movies are very like books, except that the sensory stimuli of a movie can “hook us in” emotionally in a way that overcomes our thinking. When that happens, they are more like hypnosis – ?

  5. Fr. Lazarus says:

    Ah, yes… You have articulated the most important aspect of spiritual transformation, the renewal of the inner man/woman. We live, almost exclusively in our “heads” and not our “hearts” to draw on the spiritual psychological model of the Church Fathers. We do not, on the freeway or in the Safeway on in the pews at St. XYZ Church really relate to real persons. We relate to our projections about them based on lots of stuff lodged in our heads (which includes our thinking and emotions). You are exactly right. The main work of the disciple in spiritual transformation is the waging of this inner “unseen warfare” between delusion and reality. True relationships and relating issues from the heart. The head can participate with integrity to the degree that it has been purified, illumined, and descends into the heart and submit to the Truth that indwells it.

  6. Susan says:

    Yes, the heart. It seems I am often aware of a mixture of head and heart motivation (self and spirit), and seldom quite sure where the dividing line is. But bumping up against real people does make me confront my assumptions and hopefully work through some of the confusion; whilst relating among cars or over electronic media lets me escape much of this and keep “self” intact and unchallenged. Real relationships, I think, gradually grind away our false selves, at least, to the extent that we allow ouirselves to be vulnerable and transparent in them.

  7. Fr. Lazarus says:


  8. Coming in here a bit late, but I would agree with everything (not sure I understand it all) and only add that we are lost without each other, up close and personal as it were, face to face, caring, loving. The rest is artifice and second hand communication. And the greatest confrontation, union, is the Eucharist where we become one with him and with one another perfectly as the Body of Christ. The rest is second hand and artificial to an extent, attempts to replicate direct contact for various reasons, some artistic, some propaganda, some simply ways to get from point A to B safely, i.e. utilitarian.

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